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on 7 June 2013
Francesca Segal's The Innocents received a great deal of critical acclaim. Not only did it win the 2012 Costa First Novel award, it also won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature in Fiction and made the shortlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction. But does it live up to the hype?

Loosely based on Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, Francesca Segal's debut novel follows childhood sweethearts Adam and Rachel. Their lives are threaded together in every way - from their intricate family relationships to the fact that Adam is a trusted employee of a business run by Rachel's father - so their engagement comes as little surprise to anyone in their immediate circle. But while Rachel is busy planning the perfect big day, Adam is having a crisis of confidence.

Full of self-doubt, Adam is torn between Rachel, as well as the inherent expectations that lie on him as a member of a tight-knit Jewish community, and her alluring, vibrant and vulnerable younger cousin Ellie. The antithesis to Rachel, Ellie is the family black sheep with a devil-may-care attitude to life. For Adam, already questioning his mapped out future as the perfect Jewish husband, her appearance is the catalyst that pushes him over the edge.

Some people have criticised this book for its in-depth descriptions of Jewish culture and community, but this was actually the aspect of the book that I most enjoyed. It's the most detailed discussion of Jewish society that I've ever read, and I found it really interesting.

However, I didn't feel that the central figures were in any way likeable. This was probably because we see everyone else from Adam's perspective, and for me, Adam is nothing but self-centred and weak. As a result, we see Rachel alternatively as either a homely and loving safe haven or a clingy and vapid black hole sucking him into a life that he's not sure he wants.

I'm not even really sure who can really be considered as `innocent'. Adam is lacking in any life experience, Rachel is clueless to all of her fiancé's misgivings and Ellie has her own childhood traumas leaving us questioning whether she's an instigator of trouble or a victim of her own troubled past. This may have been the very point that the author was trying to convey, that we are in fact all innocent in our own ways. But while the book read really well and I did enjoy it, I just couldn't relate to any of the characters.

Essentially, it all boils down to one simple question. How do we know if the grass is really greener on the other side, and is what we have ever good enough?
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on 3 September 2013
The Innocents is a lovely book - Segal has a wonderful way with words. The story is a modern-day telling of The Age of Innocence - I have to admit I read the original so long ago that I can't make an accurate comparison though I was grateful for the interval as it meant I could not predict the ending with certainty. I recently met a very serious woman who was reading The Innocents in parallel with The Age of Innocents chapter for chapter and she said, 'It is incredible what Segal has done'. I have no intention of carrying out this exercise but it was very interesting to hear from someone who had. For me, as a Jew living in North London, but not really from the kind of community described, I enjoyed the portrayal of local colour and familiar places and characters. The plot was compelling and I could not help but read it very quickly but the thing I loved most was the beautiful use of language.
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on 10 February 2014
Adam has been going out with Rachel since they met on a trip to Israel as teenagers. Adam is a lawyer who works for the firm run by Rachel's father and at the start of the book they are engaged. Adam's life is following a predictable pattern for those in the North London Jewish Community - marry a nice jewish girl, settle down and raise the next generation of nice jewish boys and girls. Then Rachel's cousin Ellie appears on the scene. Fleeing scandal in New York, her affair with a married man, appearance in an art house film and subsequent removal from her postgraduate course at Columbia, Ellie moves to Europe to continue her modelling career. Adam falls hard for Ellie and this throws into question everything he has worked for and everything expected of him.

As a study of the mores of a particular slice of society this book is good but as a novel it fails to excite. Adam is a one-dimensional character and the choices he makes are obvious, even the ending is half-baked somewhat.
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on 22 April 2013
I saw this book in its paperback form in Waterstone's, the cover intrigued me so after reading the back I made a mental note of the title and looked for it on my Kindle. I'd read the reviews and seen that previous readers had criticised its in depth explanations of North London Jewish society, however, this was very appealing to me having grown up in a mixed marriage but sadly outside of a Jewish community.

The character of Rachel could have been expanded a little more but I think this goes against the grain of Adam, the protagonist. Having lost his father as a young child, I felt that emotionally he was at a loss and the author conveyed this well in Adam's inability to see his fiancee and later wife as her own person and therefore a fully rounded individual.
His attraction to Ellie is almost like a hiatus in his life, Adam has always been the Nice Jewish Boy who looked after his mother and sister, did everything that was expected of him, met the Nice Jewish Girl, went to university and law school, joined the law firm of his future father-in-law and is making his inevitable journey towards the chupah. Then Ellie, Rachel's cousin returns to London from New York and after his initial disapproval of her, Adam begins to see a kindred spirit in Ellie which turns into infatuation.

I loved the style of writing, Francesca Segal portrayed a very warm, supportive community in 'The Innocents' which I hope she returns to in future. I could imagine the places, people and homes she described and I could almost smell the latkes.....

I would recommend this book to my Book Group, along with a small glossary of Yiddish words and Jewish terminology. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
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on 27 May 2014
I loved this book.

And although I thought I had the characters all figured out, I was surprised at the end to find that my first opinions of Rachel had been completely reversed. I had written her off fairly quickly as being a little dull and one-dimensional but by the end of the book I had changed my mind to consider her as perhaps the most complex and surprising character in the book.
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on 23 February 2013
If you torment yourself with whether, as a good Jew, you occasionally want to break out of the mould, this is the book for you. Otherwise, it pretty tedious and the characters are hard to take, even for non practising Jews.
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on 8 April 2014
I liked this novel very much. It is a compelling portrait of the Jewish community in north west London at a time when some of its dearest traditions are under threat but, in the case of the families in the forefront of the story, win through. Adam is a perfectly charming, human but fundamentally decent and moral character whose flaw is that he can be manipulated by people and events but ends up as a promising future patriarch. Rachel, a maddening, conventional, complacent, spoiled young woman who is faced with the loss of everything but comes through her ordeals older, stronger and wiser. Ziva as the grandmother is one of the most attractive portraits of an elderly eccentric that I have read. Ellie is believable as the rebel who doesn't lose her fundamental sense of what is fitting. For the reader who is not a member of the community the picture the book provides is enlightening and in many ways comforting. what fund it would be, for example, to celebrate Purim by dressing up and eating three cornered pastries in memory of Queen Esther and the wicked Haman. Definitely recommended!
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 6 January 2013
Firsty, I have not read the classic, "The Age of Innocence", but it is right there in my book list after I found out that "The Innocents" is loosely based on the Edith Wharton's novel. I have nothing to compare "The Innocents" to, yet it helps to review the book as a completely stand along work of fiction.

Secondly, for a while I thought that the detailed descriptions of Jewish society of North London is absolutely unnecessary, but very soon I took the Jewish community to be a separate, alive and breathing character of the novel (like the city of St. Petersburg was often a separate character in Dostoevsky's fiction).

All of the main characters of "The Innocents" are multi-dimensional and exquisitely done. If firstly you think you can "distinguish" good ones from bad ones, by the middle of the book you realise, that, not unlike in life, there is no all good and no all bad, there are always two sides to each and every coin. This, I feel, takes an exceptional writing skill to create.

The characters are joy to get to know. The plot is greatly paced. The book is well-written. It's enjoyable and interesting, insightful, clever yet light. I am looking forward to reading more of Francesca Segal's fiction.
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VINE VOICEon 8 February 2013
I'm really surprised to see so many hostile reviews of this excellent first novel. I found it funny, touching and engaging. It's more about character than plot, but I found this look into a different culture quite fascinating, and I learned a lot about Jewish life and customs from it. There are some excellent jokes and some great set pieces, like the New Year celebrations in Eilat. Highly enjoyable and well written (rather better than Ms Segal's dad's famous Love Story). I highly recommend it.
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on 9 July 2013
I'd heard a lot about this before I read it and assumed I would hate it - so was very pleasantly surprised to find the opposite was true. Having grown up in the area the book centres around was able to identify with the locations and recognise many of the characters and very much enjoyed it. It seems to be a bit of a Marmite book - but I definitely fall into the camp that would highly recommend.
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